Quarries supply processed rock, sand, gravel, minerals, metal ores and coal for many building and industrial processes. They may also be known around the world as surface mines, open pits or opencast mines. The materials they produce are used to make everything from our homes and roads to toothpaste and even bread.
Quarry operatives use large, powerful excavating, transporting, crushing and processing equipment to extract and process minerals. Deep drilling machines and explosives are also used where necessary to break the rock. A single blast may produce as much as 100,000 tonnes of broken rock, which is then crushed into smaller pieces and separated into uniform sizes by a process called screening.
Within the UK, the majority of minerals extracted by quarrying are used for construction and are known as 'aggregates'. Quarries also produce large quantities of chemical grade limestone, gypsum, common clays, china clay or kaolin, ball clays and silica sand. Sand and gravel quarries across the UK also provide products for the construction industry.
The quarried minerals are used to make other materials, so quarries are often linked to process plants. These can include ready-mixed concrete plants, coating plants to produce asphalt and road-making materials, cement and lime burning kilns, concrete block and pipe works, brick works, pottery works and plaster factories.
The nature of the work varies enormously, and a quarry worker may work as any of the following:
Plant operator - working with machinery such as excavators and loaders.
Process operator - using crushing, screening and washing equipment, as well as processing plant.D
Driller - using deep drilling machines.
Qualified shotfirer - working with explosives.
Maintenance worker - fitters, mechanics and electricians.
Driver - driving LGV delivery tippers, dump trucks and vehicles in the quarry.
Technician - working in laboratories on quality control or recording of site samples.
Quarry operatives usually work in teams under the supervision of a quarry manager. They will also come into contact with geologists, health and safety specialists, quarry designers and administration and support staff.
The usual working week is 37.5 hours, with considerable amounts of overtime available. Shift working is also common. In most quarries, work starts very early in the morning and continues late into the night.
Sites are usually in rural areas and can be muddy, noisy or dusty. However, modern quarries employ special techniques to keep dust and noise to a minimum. Health and safety is a priority.
Some aspects of the work are physically demanding. It can involve lifting, bending, carrying and climbing, so workers must be in good health and prepared to work outside in all weathers. Modern quarry vehicles and plant tend to have air-conditioned cabins and joystick control systems.
Protective clothing and equipment, such as overalls, boots, goggles, ear protectors and safety helmets, are provided by employers. A driving licence may be useful.
Salaries may start at around £12,000 a year. There are extra payments for shift working and overtime, and bonus payments. Pay is significantly higher for managerial and specialist positions.
There are around 1,300 quarries in the UK, producing four billion pounds worth of products each year and employing around 40,000 people. The main employers are multinational organisations, which may also offer opportunities to work overseas. There are excellent opportunities to enter the industry.
Jobs tend to be advertised either in the local press or Jobcentre Plus offices in areas where there are quarries, or via the websites of the main quarrying companies. The website, www.careersinquarrying.co.uk, has links to the main employers as well as general quarrying careers advice.
For many jobs, formal qualifications are not required and it is possible to start work straight from school and train on the job. However, to be sure that applicants can cope with the college and theory aspects of a training course, some employers may expect three to five GCSE's/S grades. English, maths, science and technology are useful subjects. Many managerial and specialist jobs call for university graduates, or people willing to continue their education whilst at work.
It can be very useful to gain some work experience in the industry, perhaps in a local quarry, to get a feel for the range of jobs and the type of work involved. Schools and local careers services may be able to help in finding placements.
Many employers have comprehensive training programmes, which lead to relevant NVQ's/SVQ's at Levels 1 to 3 covering subjects such as:
Shotfirers, blast designers and explosives supervisors must have a Shotfiring Certificate to work at a quarry. These courses are offered by specialist providers approved by EPIC Training and Consultancy Limited on behalf of employers.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
Quarry workers need to be:
This is an industry where people with the right aptitude can advance at an early age to a senior position. With experience, quarry workers can move into supervisory jobs.
With further study, often to HND or degree level, there are opportunities in technical and managerial roles.
The Institute of Quarrying,
7 Regent Street, Nottingham NG1 5BS
Tel: 0115 945 3880
Proskills UK, Centurion Court,
85b Milton Park, Abingdon,
Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844
Quarry Products Association (QPA),
38-44 Gillingham Street, London SW1V 1HU
Tel: 020 7963 8000
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.